(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Howard Tetch, a writer and college teacher of writing, is walking down a street in New York City when he accidentally looks in a window and sees a man about his age dancing around the room holding in his arms a two-or three-month-old baby. The music to which he is dancing is the slow movement of a Gustav Mahler symphony. The scene’s depiction of a father’s perfect moment with his child and the beauty of the paternal dance of love stirs Howard so profoundly that he feels impelled to reproduce it in his own life. Determined to reify that edenic moment in his own life, Howard sets off on a quest to make himself into a happily married husband and father.

He immediately calls three of his friends and boldly asks them to keep an eye out for any available women and, if possible, to invite him to events where he can meet them. The first woman he meets confesses that she knows that he saw a man dancing with his baby and decided that he wanted to be that man. He never calls her again. He meets a second woman at a party; they go to dinner, have sex, and decide not to see each other again because she is dating several men and does not want to tie herself down to any one man. Howard next sees a woman in line for a movie, engages her in conversation, and begins an affair with her. His irksome little habits, such as hanging his underpants to dry out in her bathroom and his refusal to shave before they go to bed, finally make the relationship an impossible one.

Howard next meets an attractive woman at an art show. They spend considerable time together, but she is hesitant to engage in sex with...

(The entire section is 658 words.)